Massive solar flares are largest in the last decade

A massive solar flare is unleashed on Earth.
By Joseph Scalise | Sep 12, 2017
Early on September sixth the sun released two large solar flares, one of which is the most powerful recorded blast in over a decade.

Researchers from NASA registered the eruption as an X-class solar flare -- the most powerful sun-storm category -- and found that it emanated from the second largest sunspot on the sun's surface. That first blast marked the strongest flare since 2015, a record that was promptly broken three hours later when a second X9.3 flare came from the star. The last X9 flare to have occurred before that took place in 2006.

The two flares were so strong that they caused hour-long radio blackouts and interfered with low frequency communication on Earth.

"The sun is currently in a period of low activity, moving toward what's called solar minimum, when there are few to no solar eruptions," said NASA officials, according to CBS News. "So these flares were the first large ones observed since April."

Solar flares occur when the sun's magnetic field twists up and reconnects. That then causes a blast of extreme energy that shoots outward and superheats the solar surface. While all flares are different, X-class solar flares have enough power to trigger radiation storms in Earth's upper atmosphere. Such events can also cause coronal mass ejections (CME), where the sun slings a cloud of energetic plasma from its body.

The team believes the recent blasts may have triggered a CME, but more research needs to be done before that can be said for certain. Even if one did occur, analysts still need to model the trajectory to see if the cloud is moving in the direction Earth. If it is, the event could cause a series of bright auroras across numerous states.

However, it could also causedamage to communications, satellites, and power systems. As a result, researchers plan to monitor the event in the coming days. Nobody is yet sure when it could arrive, but estimates guess within the next 1 to 4 days.

"We are heading toward solar minimum, but the interesting thing about that is you can still have events, they're just not as frequent," saidRob Steenburgh, a space scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, according to Space.com. "We're not having X-flares every day for a week, for instance -- the activity is less frequent, but no less potentially strong."

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